BY THE time that Middlesbrough take the field at the Liberty Stadium tomorrow lunch-time, 106 days will have elapsed since they last sampled the sweet sensation of a Premier League victory.
That came against tomorrow’s opponents Swansea City at the Riverside Stadium on December 17 and the extension of Boro’s winless league streak to a 13th successive game in the reverse fixture could have grave repercussions in their survival quest.
We had seven years out of the Premier League and it is a town which has had a lot of hard times. With the steelworks shutting football is the beacon, the shining light at the end of the tunnel.Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson
It looked somewhat rosier back on the night of December 17 when Boro’s 3-0 win over the stricken-looking Welsh club propelled them up to a comfortable looking 14th spot, with all the issues belonging to the Swans, second-from-bottom in the table and six points behind the Teesside outfit.
Swans’ post-Christmas renaissance under Paul Clement is such that they now find themselvesl five points and two places above Boro, who embark on the first leg of a crunch triple-header of matches in the space of six days that will surely decide whether they have a realistic chance of staying up or are pretty much doomed with around a month and a half of the season still to go.
For 19th-placed Middlesbrough, it is very much a case of now or never in their safety mission and no one needs to spell that out to caretaker-manager Steve Agnew.
The club’s players are also under no illusions of the pressing need for points and victories on their travels against the Swans and relegation rivals Hull City on Wednesday night and at home to Burnley at the Riverside next Saturday afternoon.
Boro’s homegrown contingent was added to this week in the shape of former defender Jonathan Woodgate, who has arrived as first-team coach, and for the likes of the ex-Leeds centre-half, Stewart Downing and Ben Gibson, the pain of Boro’s slide will be felt particularly acutely.
On the task ahead for Boro, whose sole Premier League win on the road arrived in a 2-1 triumph at neighbours Sunderland way back on August 21, defender Gibson said: “We have got a huge week – Swansea, Hull, Burnley. Three massive games, they are all six-pointers.
“We are looking forward to it because we see it as a week in which we can fix the predicament we are in.
“It is vital that we stay up. Not just to the club, but the whole town.
“We had seven years out of the Premier League and it is a town which has had a lot of hard times. With the steelworks shutting football is the beacon, the shining light at the end of the tunnel.”